Responding to Negative Feedback About Your Art

I recently had an email conversation with an artist who had just been through battle on her blog. After years of extensive blogging, she received her first negative comment, an inflammatory comment about a post she had written with some derogatory  comments about her art thrown in for good measure. The level of vitriol in the comment was a bit dumbfounding, especially since it didn’t seem to be coming from a dissatisfied customer, rather from a random visitor to the site who wouldn’t seem to have any good reason to be so  . . . blunt.

After the shock and pain wore off, they were replaced by outrage. The artist dashed off a heartfelt response, countering point by point each of the charges  in the comment. And thus began an epic battle in the comments section of her blog, with fiery comments flying back and forth over several days. I’m not going to post the comments here – I don’t wish to draw any more attention to them, but I’m sure that many of you who blog, have a website with a guest book, or participate in social media can sympathize with this situation. There’s nothing more disheartening than a brutal criticism of you or your work.

I’ve been blogging for about five years now, and I’ve certainly run into my share of negativity online. Really, this kind of behavior can happen anywhere – on a blog, one a third-party website, via email, and even in person. There are people out there who have a chip on their shoulder and like nothing more than to stir up a fight.

In the online world, this kind of person is called a “troll”, and they pop up all over the web. Rarely do they add anything of value to a conversation; they are usually composing their comments with the sole intent of stirring up an argument.

Dealing with Trolls

So what should you do if a Troll sets his sights on you? My advice, coming from experience, is to ignore them. Responding only feeds the fire. If you have control over the forum (if they’ve posted on your blog, for example) I recommend removing the post. Your website or blog is your personal and private property, not a public forum, and you should feel no obligation to give their comments an audience, especially when it comes at your expense. I go a step further and moderate comments before they are posted on the blog – allowing me to prevent any inflammatory comments from ever seeing the light of day.

Try not to dwell on anything said in the comments. It’s easy to let a negative post ruin your whole day. Don’t.

Trolling is a widespread problem on the internet – NPR recently had to change their entire commenting system to deal with the issue (read about that here).

Responding to Dissatisfied  Customers

But what if the comment or email comes from a real customer? It’s one thing to dismiss the rantings of a troll, but handling the negative feedback of an actual customer is another thing altogether. I’ve been fortunate to have very few unhappy customers over the years. We’re celebrating our 12th anniversary in business this month, and I can count on one hand the number of times that I’ve had a customer unhappy with a purchase or with the service they received. On the rare occasion where I do have to respond to a dissatisfied customer, I try to keep the following in mind:

  1. My goal is to get the customer back to a happy state – I will go to extremes to make that happen (although there are limits)
  2. I don’t argue with customers (or anyone else for that matter). I believe that as soon as an argument has started, the battle is already lost. Let’s be honest, it’s pretty rare that someone will change their views because of a persuasive argument. I prefer to take the diplomatic approach and try and find a common ground.
  3. Ignore the harsh stuff. If a client has used foul language or leveled strong criticism against you or your art, don’t feel compelled to respond to those parts of the communication. By responding in a civil, professional manner, you’ll likely calm things down, or, at the very least, you’ll feel better about the whole ordeal.
  4. Provide a liberal return/refund policy. Because returns are so rare in the gallery, I’ve found I can afford to be very liberal about my return policy. On the occasion when it needs to be invoked, I’ve found I can smooth over almost any situation by being generous in the return policy (paying for the return shipping on a piece of art, for example, as well as refunding the purchase price). There may be a cost involved in being liberal in this way, but in the long run, it’s worth it.
  5. Move any negative comments from a public forum to a private one. If you have a customer post a complaint or criticism on your blog or other public venue, try to get in touch with the customer privately – via phone or email to resolve the issue. Even though you are going to try to smooth the situation over, there’s no point in broadcasting the interactions to your other customers.

Responding to Critics in Public Forums

What if you don’t have control over the forum where a negative comment is posted? Several years ago I watched two artists battle it out on an artists group’s website. Apparently the two artists had a long-running rivalry in real life that moved into the comments section of this website. One artist would post an image of a new painting, and the other would jump into the comments and write what was wrong with it. The first artist would respond, and they were off – thousands of words flying back and forth. In the few posts I read, I felt like I should have a bag of popcorn since the comments had become so absurd that they were almost entertaining.

This is an extreme example, but you may have run into a negative comment about your work in a public forum and been unsure how to respond.

I’ve had this experience with the two books I have written selling on Amazon.com. Though both have been largely well received, if you look in the reviews you’ll see a few comments that aren’t 5-star, and a few that are downright negative (if you’re curious you can read them on Amazon.com)

Since you can’t delete the comments in a forum you don’t control, you’re going to be even more tempted to respond. Again, I would urge caution. It’s even worse to feed the fire in a public forum.

Keep the following in mind:

  1. Try not to take it personally. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and for everyone that has a negative opinion of what you’re doing, a dozen will have a positive one. 
  2. Try not to get emotional. It’s hard not to take it personally, and even harder not to let your emotions take over. The problem is that your heart is far more likely to get you into trouble than your head is. If you feel compelled to respond, I recommend waiting a day or two so that you have time to calm down. This has the added benefit of allowing your tormentor to calm down as well.
  3. Let your fans respond. Often, if you wait, your friends and fans will take care of responding for you, and it looks a lot better to have a third party responding than replying yourself. You might even alert your friends or fans to the comment via email. If you do, ask them to step up for you, but to keep it civil and avoid combat.

Responding to Critics in Person

Dealing with online negativity is hard enough, but it’s even more challenging  if the critique comes in person – say at a gallery opening or other public event. So what do you do if someone makes a derogatory comment to your face? Basically, all of the principles above apply – try not to get emotional or take it personally.  Depending on the situation, I will try to laugh it off “I’m sure glad not everyone agrees with that opinion!” or I will ask for further explanation “I’m curious about your opinion – tell my why you say that?”

No matter what the situation – online or off, remember that your critics don’t define you. Being a glass-half-full kind of guy, I like to think that each critic is helping me thicken up my skin, and for that I should be grateful, I guess . . .

Have you Been the Subject of Criticism or Negativity?

Have you ever been the recipient of negative remarks or harsh criticism? How did you respond? What have you learned about dealing with negativity? Please share your experience and thoughts in the comments below.

 

Starving to Successful

StSBookSHave you always wondered what it takes to show your work in galleries? Is your work being seen by qualified collectors?

In his Amazon.com best-selling book, Xanadu Gallery owner Jason Horejs shares insights gained over a life-time in the art business.

Learn more and order today.

2015-01-07 14_43_10-CSS Button Generator

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of ARTsala. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business. Connect with Jason on Facebook

44 Comments

  1. Sometimes negative people are jealous of another artist’s success. I just let it roll off my back and move forward. I wouldn’t allow any negativity on my web based properties. If a collector has an issue(very rare), I resolve it so everyone is happy.

  2. Such good advice. Silence is difficult is argue with. Dont we artists have paintings to paint , sculptures to sculpt and altogether better, calming more happy things to do than respond to a bully? I sure do!😊🎨

  3. It is amazing how so many people today feel entitled to express their opinions both good and bad). I have found that when it is negative ( which is unusual), it is typically fueled by jealousy, envy, or simply a lack of understanding that all art is not geared towards their own personal taste. At times I feel that some people have the need to appear and sound intelligent as well, which is expressed through negativity. You are not going to win with someone in this frame of mind, and they certainly are not your customer. I handle negative comments by initially saying something such as: “That is an interesting comment, I am curious as to why you say that”. That lets the customer feel like you respect their opinion. If they are not combative, then you can try to explain the reason an artist expressed himself or herself in a certain manner, and the strengths of it. At times you are educating the public, and helping them see things in a different light. Occasionally I can actually open a person’s mind and turn negative comments into sales. You have to determine early on if the person is open to your point of view, or if they are simply enjoying being critical. I once had a woman in the gallery who was entertaining herself with arguing the merits of a particular artist. She clearly was trying to discredit the artist to sound intelligent, and had no intention of buying. Her comments were raising a lot of eyebrows and gaining a lot of attention from those around her. I tired of it quickly and then made the comment that the artist’s work tended to be collected by a sophisticated, or serious collector, and that his work sells regularly. It shut the conversation down very quickly. You can’t take negative comments personally. There is usually an underlying reason that people express negativity and always keep in mind that no one artist appeals to everyone. Social media is there to promote you. When negative comments are posted, then simply remove them, and bear in mind that person is not your customer. If they are an actual customer with an issue, then remove it and contact them personally to resolve the problem.

  4. Life is too short to argue with angry people. You have good advice in your article. Thank you. I have found the negative people I’ve come across online that it is better to not get emotional with them and to politely ignore them or block them. It’s better to focus on your supporters. A sense of humor about it all also helps.

  5. I have a question regarding the return policy. If an artist is living hand to mouth, which many do, and they make a big sale (hooray! The bills can get paid) then the customer comes back a few months later and would like a refund, however, the funds aren’t there anymore, what would be the suggest strategy in that situation?

    Respectfully,

    Tina

    1. Some artists have a policy of not giving a cash refund, but allowing the purchaser to return the item and exchange it for another one that they like better. If the new selection is less expensive, and the difference is slight, refund the difference. If the difference is substantial or if there is nothing else that they currently like, the purchaser gets a credit to use on a future selection. If the new one is more, they pay the difference.

      An artist who has paid a gallery commission (and sales tax) can’t possibly refund both their share and the gallery share. In that case refer the purchaser to the gallery where the sale was made and let them handle it according to their policies (which would be good to discuss with them in advance).

      In your case, offering a credit could solve the cash flow issue. You are not obligated to buy back your painting unless you said you would. Some galleries and artists offer a limited time return. For example, “I will hold your check for 3 days so you can take the sculpture home and see how you like it, but if you haven’t returned it within 3 days I will cash the check.”

      You wouldn’t expect a car dealer to give you a refund several months after you buy a car. They might give you a trade-in on another one, but certainly not cash back. Why should an artist be expected to do so?

  6. Very early in my amateur sculpting career, before I had committed to behaving professionally as an artist, I showed my portfolio to the Director of my city’s major art museum. He flipped through it, then said he had no idea who I was because my portfolio showed no recognizable style or theme that could identify me. He ended by recommending that I not consider going further in art. That hurt, but after a while I recognized the truth in his response, began to discover my self in my work and express that self in recognizable ways. Forty four years later, I am extremely grateful for his candid and truthful, if not very gentle response.

    1. You are to be commended for not folding your tent and going home as he advised you, and not getting flattened by the criticism. Well done! And I’m sure you have gone on to make many people very happy with your work.

  7. I had a client in my studio who later emailed and wanted a piece and could I send it out to her. About two hours away we agreed on bus as the way to ship it. She received it then called and said she wanted to return it as I had sent it c.o.d. and not paid for the shipping. I was shocked as I did not understand how someone would think they don’t pay the shipping (the piece only cost $350). She had asked for it to be shipped. But like you I said of course return the art and gave her a refund. Odd???

    1. Valerie, that was both odd and rude. It also teaches us all a lesson – make sure EVERTHING has been discussed in advance. Thank you for the reminder!

  8. Years ago I attended a sales training for a media company and learned an approach I’ve used in both business and personal situations. The method can be remembered by it’s acronym: LAER.

    LISTEN: Listen to the complaint carefully — in live conversation, that means, focus on the speaker and don’t start planning your response.

    ACKNOWLEDGE: Let the other person know you heard them. If possible, repeat back to them what you heard. This can help clear up misunderstandings and instantly makes the conversation less adversarial.

    EXPLORE: Ask questions to explore what you heard. This process can reveal common ground and, more often than you would expect, reveal opportunities to work together. Some of the most successful products I’ve created came from this process.

    RESPOND: Use what you’ve learned to respond constructively. If an apology is needed, make a heartfelt one. Then discuss your ideas for moving toward a positive outcome.

  9. Many years ago, a man dropped in to my open studio event with his dog (I was showing in my garage at the time). I had work hung on the walls, sitting on a workbench, and even a few pieces on the floor leaning against things. The dog sniffed one of the latter and — sure enough — lifted his leg and peed on it. It was an oil, so I knew that I could simply wipe it off. So I just said, “Everybody’s a critic!” and laughed it off. The dog’s owner apologized and left immediately with the dog, but no one was offended.

    1. The dog using the painting for a potty reminded me of a time awhile back when I had a show ready to hang. They were lined up on the floor against the studio wall for a last look before taking them to the gallery.
      My studio door was open to the beautiful spring day. A cat must have wandered in the open door and when I noticed, it had backed itself up and was in the process of spraying on my paintings. I shooed it outside, closed the door, and rematted three of the works. The rest were OK. I got a screen for the door.

  10. When I was growing up, regarding unkindness of others, my mother used to say:
    “Sticks and stones can break your bones but words can never hurt you.”
    Snarky people have attitude issues not sticks.
    Regarding negative feedback/comments on my work over the years, I can’t remember exact incidents, but sometimes comments can be helpful. Other times not. Just differentiate and file appropriately as consider or discard.

  11. Am used to the cowards behind the keyboard. When I made the transition from film to digital I was not used to it and it was irritating. Now, don’t care.

    I’m not interested in people’s comments. My interest is in putting my work online. I shut off comments on my first website, but it is a hassle and just gave up on it on the 30 something other sites.

    If they bother you, tell them to take a number and get in line at…

    https://danielteolijr.wordpress.com/2015/05/10/opinions-are-like-assholes-everyones-got-one/

  12. This is before social media was prevalent. I raised and showed German Shepherd Dogs for over 30 years. I did my best to breed responsibly and sell to good homes. One breeding I did produced some of the most beautiful winning pups I had ever had. I sold them into good show homes. Then I redid the breeding because I had created a nice demand for that particular type of dog. But horrible things began to happen. The pups as they reached 10 months old got pneumonia. All of them. I had testing done. I paid for it on all of them. They had a strange disorder where the filia in their lungs was underdeveloped..leaving them vulnerable to horrible infections. None of them would reach adult hood. I paid back every owner, all their vet bills. I offered pups from a different breeding down the road. I had to take both parents out of my breeding program and the show ring. My reputation as a breeder hung by a thread. A good friend said to suck it up and pay back every cent that the owners asked for and I did.
    My reputation appeared to survive, but a “friend” befriended one of the owners and while I was on vacation they came to my house and let all my dogs out of their kennels. Luckily the dogs were ok. But one killed two kittens and my son’s bunnies. It was horrible. I often think had there been Facebook then, I would have been destroyed by those people. But luckily I quit the dog showing and breeding some years later and before twitter, and FB. What does this have to do with this article? Well it taught me that I needed to be responsible for my reactions to someone spending a great deal of effort to malign me. I did not respond to the accusations that were floating around and let my continued breeding and showing efforts and satisfied buyers speak for me. The adage go high when they go low did work. Although these days i would want to respond fire with fire…but i would know it does not work. The other adage of living well really sums up my life after this debacle. I no longer am a part of the toxic environment created by the competition and jealousy of dog showing.
    As an artist I welcome criticism but I will only respond to objective criticism, not personal attacks.

  13. The worst time I ever had was when I had to hang my senior show and stood in the gallery in front of the art faculty. During my college career I had to take a semester off now and then and get a job because my husband had just got out of school and was at his first job, we had 2 kids and lots of loans to pay back. (This was a long time ago. His salary as an Assistant English Professor was $10,000 per year. I thought we were rich; turns out we weren’t!). Anyhow new faculty came in during my senior year and I had not had any of them as teachers but two. I was so excited hanging’ my senior show and waiting to hear their comments….There were none! My chairman said “you don’t have any of your older work here, they don’t know how you progressed….”
    I was always an A student. I almost started crying but waited until I got outside and told my husband I will never set foot in that place again. (I did; I sort of got over it.) talk about being devastated.

  14. I don’t have a comments section on my website, but they can email me. Not that I am getting any insults on FB or instagram yet, but it is a matter of time. To in person comments, I respond with something like “My art isn’t for everyone” or “my work certainly is for a niche market” because it is true that most of the boors are just unhappy people and it has nothing to do with me. (And drawings of ordinary looking nude people are not appealing to most people. Some are “ideal looking models” but I am committed showing the noble in the everyday person. I might be foolish, but it is important to me.)

  15. While hanging my first show, a woman came by and told me she was legally blind. Then she told me she did not like my work. I immediately felt terrible. She said the work wasn’t bright enough! It took me several minutes before I caught my breath. It taught me that many comments say more about the viewer than the artist.

  16. I recently had an individual in the community pass on some negative comments about my work. Calling the individual on the phone to politely discuss the matter, I found out the individual had never been to my studio to see my collection of work and based his comments on one painting alone. I decided to take the gentle approach and ended up inviting the person to the studio at his convenience to see the process of painting and to view other paintings. He left after an hour and a half with a total understanding of what is involved in creating art, knowing that everyone does not have to like every piece of art they see and with a small purchase under his arm.

  17. A long time ago someone damaged a Salvador Dali painting by slashing it with a knife. The gallery owners were horrified, but Dali wasn’t at all concerned. He issued a statement saying that it was a good thing. The painting had invoked a response, which was better than no response. The advice Jason gave was correct, ignore the comments. We have no control over the actions of others, but we do have control over our own. By responding you make yourself part of the problem. It’s the way it has always been, and always will be.

  18. Hi Jason, I agree – ignore them. Remember the old saying, “you can please some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but, you can’t please all of the people all of the time!”
    In addition, people that feel the ‘need’ to sound off on a public site may be likened to people who sprout
    with ‘road rage’. Just got some problem.
    Delete and ignore ! Good and best advice. Smile ! Keep your sense of humour and feel sorry for the
    ‘sound-off’rs’ !!

  19. I’m so sorry to hear of the bad experiences some of you have endured. Thank you soooooooo oooo much for sharing. I read every single comment on this post. Jason’s article, and all your stories provide an excellent education for the day it happens to me … or any one of us. I am grateful to all of you that shared … I now feel prepared to graciously handle all levels of negativity and not let it devastate me … that includes trolls, collectors and galleries. Thank you all again for sharing so honestly.

  20. When I did a show 5-6 years ago at the University, we had a guest book for people to sign in and make comments. It was wonderful with over 100 positive comments, but the only one I remember to this day was the very last comment on the very last day. which said, “How did you ever get to do a show here, your work is terrible” unsigned. I was floored and had no way to respond. I realize of course I was not the problem, but it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth to this day.

    1. I had a one person show a few year’s back. I had a similar negative remark, unsigned, in my guest book but it was the first one written in the book, not the last. There were other good comments on the show. And there were comments on the negative comment.

  21. Recently I participated in a public space art project. My work was a long narrow object consisting of parts of used truck tarpaulins that had different colors. I hung this in a small gap between two houses after receiving permission from the owner. The tenant, however, could not stand this artwork, he could not even see it from his window. Instead of addressing me, he attached a note underneath, on which he had written that this garbage must go, it would be rubbish, as you can see it swimming in the sea, but no art. In my flyer was described that it is up-cycling, so the waste went to another purpose. I went to this guy and showed him the statement but he shouted at me that he hates such “art”, for him contemporary art is not art, even if it would be shown in a museum. And my work would be just garbage, and that garbage does not belong there.
    It was not possible to talk to him, he just kept fidgeting, every day tacking notes to the work After a few days I wanted to make this behavior public by painting a large poster and asking everyone to voice their opinion on the work. He could not take that either, he tore off the poster. Shortly before the art show ended I stood in front of the work to see how I could hang it off. An unknown cyclist came by and called me, I should not look so critical, that would be art! I laughed all day, my anger was gone.
    Different opinions on my art are welcome, provided they are reasonably recited. At best, everyone can learn something from it. In case of this indifferent and rabble-ridden criticism, I was at a loss. My colleagues advised me, to remove his pamphlets but not to try to argue – personally, it would hurt me more than ignoring him. What I learned from it – when you go public with your work you can experience literally everything – and in certain cases not to take it too seriously (which is really hard to learn).

  22. Jason, your article has its basis in lots of ancient wisdom:
    1. “A soft answer turns away wrath”.
    2. “He, convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still.”
    3. Critic’s math: 999 compliments + 1 insult = 1 insult (Bad math, of course, but oy vey, it feels so true at the time!)

    Thank you for sharing such rational advice.

  23. It was so good to read your thoughts on handling negative comments…no matter the forum. Couldn’t agree more with your sentiments and since we have moved into this place of every thought being expressed without regard for civility, many of us will face situations of this nature. Our art world as always been on front lines of cruel commentary. The on slot is just from greater audience now. Funny that those of us so tapped in to expressing humanity through art must develop battle armor skin. Personally I can’t find find a venue for my work right now…no matter, my talent and voice will find an audience of appreciation. I could care less about the audience that doesn’t appreciate my work, those that support my work is the audience I will regard.

  24. Great article and good advice. I, too, have experienced trolls. They left me shaking at first, and then I decided to “delete” and move on. To quote a common saying, “Don’t even give them any space in your head”. Artists have enough debate going on inside their own heads as it is. In terms of negative comments from clients, I agree completely, again, with your advice. I, too, have a liberal return policy and find that making MINOR changes to please the client always seems to result in a satisfied customer. They seem to really “own” the painting after the changes are made.

  25. This not about a negative comment but an unethical one. While planning for my first solo show, I found an online advertisement from another artist at the gallery stating “we” were having a show together. I was horrified and called the gallery owner. The artist was called and asked to take down the site, which she did. She had the nerve to show up at my opening and act like my best friend. I did not say anything because it was my night and I did not want to wrestle with the proverbial pig.

  26. I had just started doing abstracts and posted one to my Facebook Page. I had a reply from someone I did not know: “Looks like a Dunn n Edwards Truck overturned on the freeway”
    I actually laughed and did not reply. Then he sent another message: “Modern art for modern minds”
    Later on when I posted another painting (not abstract) he said he liked it. I think some folks just want to funny.

  27. Hardest criticism for me was when a personal friend saw that I had some nudity in my figure sculptures, and blanket labeled all of my figure sculpture as “soft porn”. He still refuses to talk to me now. I’ve started to soften some of my figure art, but there are still some very valid reasons why I sculpt what I do, so I try to not just write the person off as a kook, while continuing to learn and develop my own art.

  28. Good advice Jason… any artist will get criticized at some point in time. Best to learn to ignore it. As a professor of painting criticism and the “critique” was a hard part of teaching for me. But when it is addressed as an educational tool then students learn to deal with different views about their work, they learn to accept it and move on…I think it’s a part of growing as an artist but I for one do not like public negative comments… yet it depends on how it is said. Saying things in the right attitude is important. Maybe I still need to learn some things too. Keep an open mind realizing that all people are responding from their own exposure to what is and what is not art.

  29. I owned a retail gift shop and had someone come into the store during the Beannie Baby craze. She had a beannie baby in her hand when I told her we were all out of the one she was asking about. She went into a rant as she walked to the door and just before she went out the door she winged that beannie baby at me.That baby sailed about 30 feet through the store before I caught it.My staff of 2 stood there with their mouths open.I told them she must be having a bad day and if something like that happens to them, don’t take it personally.The next day I got a phone call from the woman, apologizing and explaining her daughter and son in law had been killed in a car wreck and she was raising her 2 grandchildren.
    so, you never know what is going on in someone else’s life.

  30. Very good information. Every person is entitled to his/her opinion about a piece of art. We all look at a painting differently – some paintings we like and some we don’t. I was on the receiving end – a friend/artist telling me that I should have positioned the face of my African Wild Dog at a different angle and that I should have added a background. In the first instance I painted his face, neck and shoulders as that is how I planned it. And for background – I painted him on this beautiful fawn coloured natural linen canvas and saw no need to paint a background. His face is the attraction. I was trying to explain my reasons for painting him the way I did. Then the comment at the end ‘oh it is just my opinion’. When I shared a photo of my painting with friends they were in absolutely awe. They all thought it is so striking. So that made up for the negative criticism.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *